Thursday, August 29, 2019

Savannah City Council debates Rock 'n' Roll Marathon contract extension

Posted By on Thu, Aug 29, 2019 at 3:38 PM

The Savannah Rock 'n' Roll Marathon was renewed for another three years, through 2021, but not without controversy.

One of the terms of agreement is an annual payment of $25,000 to the Marathon, courtesy of taxpayers, which drew concern from two members of Savannah City Council.

Alderman Bill Durrence said it makes no sense to continue paying the for-profit Marathon when non-profits continue to have to pay the City for the right to hold events.

"I cannot support this and will not go for it," he said.

When it was confirmed that there will be no chance to renegotiate the contract for another three years, Durrence said, "That's three times the reason not to vote for it."

Defenders of the event say it nets at least one million dollars into the local economy.

Alderman Brian Foster said the $25,000 a year is essentially for selling Savannah as a destination city to a broader, national audience, and as such "from a marketing standpoint is a fairly reasonable fee to pay."

However, even Foster admitted that Savannah's calendar is more full than it was when the Marathon was first brought here in 2010 during the great recession — particularly that weekend in November concurrent with the SCAD Savannah Film Festival.

"At the time we were desperate to get an event like this when hotel occupancy was low," he said.

Alderman Van Johnson, while voting in favor of the contract extension, also voiced concerns, saying "there is a tipping point" where the event will eventually cost more to host than it brings in.

Johnson said the Savannah Police Department is already understaffed, and the event puts too much pressure on them, with taxpayers picking up the full tab for police presence during the weekend event, set for Nov. 2-3 this year.

In the end, Durrence was the only dissenting vote, with many of the others saying their hand was forced due to the next Marathon coming up in a few months.

In other City Council business:

Two controversial bond issues were approved, one in the amount of $45 million for more Arena funding, and one for $10 million to cover unexpected additional cost in building the Plant Riverside public/private parking garage on West River Street.

Also, Council awarded the management contract for the current Civic Center to OVG Facilities until the new Arena is built. OVG has already been awarded the Arena management contract.

OVG says they will retain current vested City employees at the Civic Center, and as many as possible will move over to the new Arena in West Savannah. (Alderwoman Carol Bell recused herself from the vote due to her son's company's cleaning contract with the Arena.)

Council approved leasing a future Arena parking lot from Tenenbaum Inc/Chatham Steel in the amount of $3.49 million for five years. Tony Thomas and Estella Shabazz were the only no votes.

A non-agenda discussion came up when Alderman Tony Thomas voiced citizen complaints about Georgia Power contractors destroying trees on the Southside during trimming operations in the City right of way.

"They are not a good neighbor," Thomas said of Georgia Power and the crews. They "come into yards" and "destroy trees," even killing azalea bushes.

Several aldermen concurred, saying it is a City-wide issue.

Alderman John Hall said "they've destroyed at least 8 or 9 trees on Sunset Boulevard" in his district.
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